In Sørvågen, near Å in Lofoten, there is a gallery called Krysset ‒ in English, intersection. It belongs to Tor Esaissen. On the floor above the gallery he has his large and richly stocked studio. He has worked there since the early 1990s, and today he continues to surprise with his free, versatile, and abundant production. Parallel with Esaissen’s art unavoidably comes the story of his life.
“Paradise and Barbed Wire. Tor Esaissen at Krysset (the intersection) in Sørvågen” is a retrospective exhibition with an artist who ended his extensive academic studies in 1960 and has since done eclectic and astonishing work at various places in Norway and internationally. In Lofoten in the second half of the 1980s he discovered what he calls his paradise. Earlier he had undergone a series of challenges. His life history is not necessarily obvious in his art; nonetheless that history is so remarkable, and so strongly present when one encounters Esaissen personally, that we have decided to let it be an important part of the exhibition. The story begins with his falling from a window as a one-year-old.
This drastic event was in a sense what enabled Tor at the early age of fourteen, strongly marked by epilepsy after the fall, to have the opportunity to begin art school in Trondheim. Eventually he also studied in Oslo at the College of Art and Craft and the Academy of Fine Art, and then at academies in Copenhagen and Paris. So Esaissen is an extremely well-educated artist, yet he has taken a clearly anti-hierarchical stance toward creative artists and their materials. As a result, his own production, his collecting of other artists and the exhibitions he creates with them are marked by complexity and generosity.
Placing Tor Esaissen in an art-historical context is not entirely simple. In fact, it may not be particularly useful or interesting. In his own artistic work he moves freely among material images–at times with directly political utterance, at others with gentler and more poetic compositions–and abstract paintings. Furthermore, we find shrewdly innovative collages, resilient sculptures and assembled objects, along with free, vital, and expressive watercolors. At one moment he can seem a late modernist; at another, assemblages appear that resemble Rauschenberg’s. A punk association cannot be avoided when looking at his production from the 1980s. But also revealing themselves are paintings with pastels and an anthroposophical cast. If his works have common traits, what unites them may be their directness: the total absence of artificial affectation or “cleverness” or “rightness.” For Esaissen the task is to make art a liberating, consciousness-forming, and political action: a way of making the world better. It is impressive indeed that perhaps in his very most recent production across the past five years, the vitality and freedom come most strongly to the fore.
Early in his career Tor Esaissen (b. 1936) was active on the exhibition front with solo shows in such venues as Trondhjems Kunstforening (Trondheim’s Art Society–1963/65/67/70/76) and UKS (The Young Artists’ Society [Oslo]–1978/80). After he moved to Lofoten he concentrated more on the exhibitions in his own gallery, even though his personal production remained substantial. His most recent large solo show was at Galleri NordNorge in Harstad in 2002. Thus a retrospective exhibition of Tor Esaissen is a rare and exclusive event. The selection for the present exhibition has been made with an eye toward demonstrating the breadth of his artistic body of work. At the same time we have employed a good dose of intuition ‒ along with intense discussions with the artist ‒ to arrive at those works we decisively consider revelatory of Esaissen at his most esaissenic.
Curators for the exhibition are Kjetil Berge, Svein Ingvoll Pedersen and Torill Østby Haaland.